Gates responds to questions about his stock sales

The recent jump in Microsoft's stock price was on the minds of shareholders during the company's annual meeting in Seattle this morning, but not necessarily with a sense of satisfaction. During the question-and-answer period, a couple of shareholders asked and commented about recent stock sales by Bill Gates and some other executives following the share increase.

"Like all the shareholders in this room and elsewhere, we were delighted three weeks ago when the stock took a nice bounce up and exceeded its six-year high. Curiously after that, for about the next 10 days, the stock has been decreasing," said shareholder Peter Schroeder.

He cited executive and board-member stock sales and added: "The talk out of Wall Street is that this showed a certain lack of confidence in the future of where the company is going."

One important point: Schroeder cited a report saying that Gates had sold around $37 million in stock, but in fact, that was only a slice of his recent stock sales. Data from SEC filings, which I've aggregated on this page, show that Gates has actually sold about $476 million worth of shares since Oct. 31. That still represents a fraction of his remaining holdings in the company, which are worth more than $29.3 billion based on current market prices. He's still the company's largest shareholder.

First to tackle the question was Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, one executive who hasn't sold stock recently: "Our board members, our top management, Bill and I are all and remain all significant shareholders in the company," Ballmer said. "It's a significant part of what we own and our net worth, and there's a lot of confidence and faith I think in the future of the company, but from time to time people will sell shares."

Then Gates addressed the question: "I have the majority of my net worth in Microsoft stock. I've sold the same number of shares every quarter for over five years, so that's a plan that I've been on and so that's a very predictable thing. I do think if you look at the volume that clearly there are factors in terms of overall market sentiment that are involved there. But I certainly agree with you, we all want the stock to be as high as possible."

Update, 3:15 p.m.: The chart previously at the bottom of this post was based on incorrect data, and so I've removed it. Sorry for the error. The volume of Gates' stock sales so far this quarter is on track to be about the same as in quarters past, consistent with what he said above.

Separately, the company said Gates sells a preset amount of shares each quarter, at market prices, as part of an effort to diversify his portfolio. The sales aren't triggered by the price reaching any particular threshold.


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